As explored elsewhere, novel reading/writing did not have a major stronghold in 19th century Mormonism. This sentiment changed with Orson Whitney’s call for “home literature” around the turn of the 20th century, novels became more common both for past-time reading as well as a career in writing. These were often didactic tales teaching morals with a simple plot, usually with the intention of building faith. Very characteristic of the neo-classicism era, they found historical accuracy not as important in their tales as the message gleaned from them. A modern-day example of this type of literature is The Work and the Glory series.
However, Mormon novels did not gain respect outside of Utah until the 1940’s, when a handful of authors dared to write historical fiction from a not-too-glamorized point of view. Two of these books, Virginia Sorensen’s A Little Lower than the Angels and Maurine Whipple’s The Giant Joshua, explore the practice of polygamy in the early Church. While Sorensen focuses on the Nauvoo time period, Whipple sets her story in the settling of St. George. While a case can be made that neither denied the faith in their masterpieces, it is safe to say that they offered a very humanistic approach to controversial topics.
So, my question is, what role does historical fiction play in understanding how Mormons view the past? A vast majority of members would prefer Gerald Lund’s stories over Sorensen and Whipple, but does the fact that the latter’s books were written say something about our community? And, perhaps more importantly, how does literature help shape our outlook on the past? Even though it is obvious that the books are fiction, would they structure how a person would view the time period that the story is set in?
5 Comments so far
Leave a comment